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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 16. The Violated Coffin


An effort has, of late, been made to repel the allegations which, for ages past, have been made against the infamous instruments of cruelty during the twenty-eight years’ persecution. The Covenanters have been represented as factious democrats, setting at defiance all constituted authority, and exposing themselves to the vengeance of law and justice. These sentiments are apt to identify themselves with modern politics; but we hope we will never see our country again devastated by oppression, cruelty, and all the shootings, and headings, and hangings of the Stuart despotism repeated. It becomes, therefore, the duty of every friend of good and equal government to put his hand to the work, and to support those principles under which Britain has flourished so long, and every man has sat in safety and in peace under his own vine and his own fig-tree. No train of reasoning, or of demonstration, however, will suffice for this. The judgment is, in many occasions, convinced of error and injustice, whilst the heart and the conduct remain the same. There must be something in accordance with the decisions of the judgment pressed home upon the feelings. There must be vivid pictures of the workings of a system of misrule placed before the mind’s eye, so that a deep and a human interest may be felt in the picture. The reader must open the doors of our suffering peasantry, and witness their family and fireside bereavements. He must become their companion under the snow-wreath and the damp cave—he must mount the scaffold with them, and even listen to their last act and testimony. How vast is the impression which a painter can, in this way, make upon the spirit of the spectator! Let Allan’s famous Circassian slave be an instance in point; but the painter is limited to a single point of time, and the relation which that bears and exhibits to what has gone before or will come after; but the writer of narrative possesses the power of shifting his telescope from eminence to eminence—of varying, ad libitum, time, place, and circumstances—and thus of making up for the acknowledged inferiority of written description or narratives to what is submitted, as Horace says, "Oculis fidelibus," by his vast and unlimited power of variety. The means, therefore, by which past generations have been made to feel and acknowledge the inhumanities, the scandalous atrocities of those blood-stained times, still remain subservient to their original and long-tried purposes; and it becomes the imperious duty of every succeeding age to transmit and perpetuate the impressions of abhorrence with which those times were regarded and recollected. This duty, too, becomes so much the more necessary, as the times become the more remote. The object which is rapidly passed and distanced by the speed of the steam-engine, does not more naturally diminish in dimensions to the eye, as it recedes into the depths of distance, than do the events which, in passing, figured largely and impressively, lose their bulk and their interest when removed from us by the dim and darkening interval of successive centuries; and the only method by which their natural and universal law can be modified, or in any degree counteracted, is by a continuous and uninterrupted reference to the past—by making what is old, recent by description and imagination; and by more carefully tracing and acknowledging the connection which past agents and times have, or may be supposed to have, upon the present advancement and happiness of man. Had the devotedness of the Covenanter and Nonconformist been less entire than it was—had the arbitrary desires of a bigoted priesthood and a tyrant prince been submitted to—then had the Duke of York been king to the end of his days—Rome had again triumphed in her priesthood; and we at this hour, if at all awakened from the influence of surrounding advancement to a sense of our degradation, had been only enacting bloody Reformation, instead of bloodless Reform, and suffering the incalculable miseries which our forefathers, centuries ago, anticipated. Nay, more, but for the lesson taught us by the friends of the Covenant and the conventicle, where had been the great encouragement to resist political oppression in all time to come, when the proudly elevated finger may point to the record, which said, and still says, in letters indeed of blood— "A people resolved to be free, can never be ultimately enslaved." The Covenant had its use; and, immense in its own day, and in its immediate efforts, it placed William, and law, and freedom on the throne of Britain; but that is as nothing in the balance when compared with the less visible and more remote effects of this distinguished triumph:—It, throughout all the last century, maintained a firm and unyielding struggle with despotism, sometimes indeed worsted, but never altogether subdued; and it has, of late years, issued in events and triumphs too recent and too agitating to be now fairly and fully discussed. Nor will the influence of the Covenant cease to be felt in our land, till God shall have deserted her, and left her entirely to the freedom of her own will, to the debasing influence of that luxury and corruption which has formed the grave of every kingdom that has yet lived out its limited period.

These Gleanings of the Covenant have been written under the impression, and with the view above expressed; and it is hoped that the following narrative, true in all its leading circumstances, and more than true in the vraisemblable, may contribute something to the object thus distinctly stated.

The funeral of Thomas Thomson had advanced from the Gaitend to the Lakehead. The accompaniment was numerous—the group was denser. Thomas had lived respected, and died regretted. He was the father of five helpless children, all females, and his wife was manifestly about to be delivered of a sixth. Just as the procession had advanced to the house of Will Coultart, a troop of ten men rode up. They had evidently been drinking, and spoke not only blasphemously, but in terms of intimidation,—"Stop, you cursed crew," said the leader. "He has escaped law, but he shall not escape justice. Come here lad;" and at once they slighted from their horses, seized the coffin, and opening the lid, were about to penetrate the corpse through and through. "Stop a little," said John Ferguson, the famous souter of Closeburn, "there are maybe twa at a bargain-making;" so saying, he lifted an axe which he took up at a wright’s door, and dared any one to disturb them in their Christian duty. A "pell~mell" took place, in the midst of which poor Ferguson was killed. He had two sons in the company, who, seeing how their father had been used, rushed upon the dragoons, and were both of them severely wounded. In the meantime, Douglas of Drumlanrig came up, and, understanding how things went, ordered the soldiers to give in, and the wounded men to be taken care of. All this was wondrous well; but what follows is not so. The body of Ferguson was carried to Croalchapel; and the two sons accompanied it, with many tears. Douglas seemed to feel what had happened, and could not help accompanying the party home. He entered the house of mourning, where there was a dead father, a weeping widow, and two wounded sons. He entered, but he saw nothing but Peggy. Poor Peggy was an only sister of these lads—an only daughter of her murdered father. Douglas was a man of the world! Oh! my God, what a term that is! and how much misery and horror does it not contain! Peggy was really beautiful—not like Georgina Gordon, or Lady William, or Mrs Norton, or Lady Blessington; for her beauty depended in no degree upon art. Had you arrayed her in rags, and placed her in a poors’-house, she would have appeared to advantage. Peggy, too, (the God who made her knows,) was pure in soul, and innocent in act as is the Angel Gabriel! she never once thought of sinning, as a woman may, and does (sometimes) sin; she lived for her father, whom she loved—and for her mother, whom she did not greatly dislike. But her mother was a stepmother, and Peggy liked her father. Guess, then, her grief, when Peggy saw her father murdered, her brothers wounded, and knew the cause thereof. Lift her, said Douglas to his men, after he had, in seeming humanity, seen the corpse and brothers home; lift her into Red Rob’s saddle, and carry her to Drumlanrig. No sooner said than done. The weeping, screaming girl was lifted into the saddle, and conveyed, per force, to Drumlanrig. At that gate there stood a figure clothed in dyed garments. It was the elder brother of Peggy, he who had been least injured of the two. He stood with his sword in his hand, and dared any one who would conduct his sister into the abode of dishonour. Douglas snapped, and then fired a pistol at him, but neither took effect. In the meantime, the brother was secured, and the sister was carried into the "Blue Room," well known afterwards as the infamous sleeping chamber of old "Q." The not less infamous, though ultimately repentant Douglas, advanced into the chamber. The poor girl seemed as if she had seen a snake; she shrunk from his approach, and from his blandishments. She had previously opened the window into the green walk; she had taken her resolve, and, in a few instants, lay a maimed, almost mangled being, on the beautiful walks of Drumlanrig. Douglas was manifestly struck by the incident, but not converted. He took sufficient care to have the poor girl conveyed home, and to have the brothers provided for; but his hour was not yet come. It was not till after his frequent conversations with the minister of Closeburn, that he came to a proper sense of his horrible conduct. But what was the awful devastation of his family. The poor beauteous flower Peggy, who was about to have been married to a farmer’s son, (Kirkpatrick of Auchincairn,) was by him rejected. He called at the house sometime afterwards, with a view to see her; but he came full of suspicion, and therefore unwilling to receive the truth. He had heard the whole story, and must have known that his Peggy was at least as pure in mind as she had been beautiful in person; but he belonged not naturally to the noble stock of the family to which he was to have been allied, and gave himself up to prejudice. The girl was still in bed, to which, from her bruises, she had been confined for months. The meeting might have been one which a poet would have gloried in describing, or a painter in delineating and embellishing, with hues stolen from the arc of heaven. Alas! lit was one only worthy of the pencil of a Ribera—fraught with cruelty, and abounding in selfishness and dishonour. The girl, as she turned her pale yet beautiful face on him, told him the truth, and watched, with tears in her eyes, the effect of her narrative on one whose image had never been absent from her mind, if indeed it had not supported her in her struggle, and nerved her to the purpose which preferred death to dishonour. Her bruises and wounds spoke for her, and, to any one but her lover, would have proved that he was a part of the object of her sacrifice. It was all to no purpose. The eloquence of truth, of love, of nature, was lost upon him; nothing would persuade him that the object of his love had not been degraded. He turned a cold glance of doubt upon her, and turned to leave the room. Peggy rushed out of bed, and, maimed and weak as she was, would have stopped him. Her energies failed her; her lover was gone; and her mother, roused by the cries of her pain, came and assisted her again into bed. Poor Peggy heard no more of Kirkpatrick. She sickened and died!— no! far worse!—she became desperate, married a blackguard, and lived a drunkard; the sons were banished for firing at Douglas, as he passed in his carriage through Thornhill; and the poor mother of the whole family became—shall I tell it!—an object of charity. Thus was, to my certain knowledge, at least to that of my ancestors, a most creditable and well-doing family ruined, root and branch, by the persecutors; or, in other words, by those who, without knowing what they did, regarded the "Covenant" as an unholy thing, and fought the foremost of the ranks of oppression and uniformity.

Now, there is not a word of this in Woodrow, or Burns, or even in the MS. of the Advocates’ Library; and yet we can assure the reader, that the material facts are as true as is the death of Darnley, or the murder of Rizzio! God bless you, madam! You have, and can have, and ought to have no notion whatever of the united current of horribility, which ran through the whole ocean and cruelty during these awful and most terrific times! May the God that made, the Saviour that redeemed, and the Holy Spirit that prepares us for heaven, make us thankful that in those times we do not live; and that such men as Woodrow and Burns (the first and the last) have been raised up, to vindicate and to justify such men as then suffered in their families, or in their persons, for the covenanted cause of the Great Head of our Presbyterian Church!


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